Similar to Professor Silver’s Liquid Lens, Chef Ann Cooper’s innovative cafeteria system aims to improve the world on a smaller but equally valuable scale. Chef Cooper, who transformed Berkeley School District’s cafeteria lunches, is calling for a complete national transformation of the standard school cafeteria system. She hopes to transform school lunches across America from highly processed food that could potentially make children ill to fresh, locally-grown healthy food. Partnering with Whole Foods, Cooper recently launched the “Lunch Box,” a program that provides schools, cooks, and parents with information and resources on how to make their cafeteria lunches healthier. Launching with the Berkeley, Harlem and Boulder School Districts, the program’s offerings include healthy cafeteria menus, recipes, nutritional guidelines, and financial and educational tools.
Given the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity, diabetes and other childhood health problems, the need for providing healthier lunches at school is certainly pressing. For the first time in U.S. history, children born since 2000 face a shorter life expectancy that the previous generation. Cooper proposes revising the Child Nutrition Act by increasing the funding that goes directly toward healthy foods. Surprisingly, many public school cafeterias do not even own essential cooking equipment, such as stoves and knives. To solve this problem, Cooper suggests increased funding to build and properly equip a “central district kitchen,” that can service all the schools in the school district. On the food front, the program calls for a local community approach, where local farmers and food producers are the chief food providers. This will engage communities in the common goal of healthier children, reduce food-shipping costs, and build more sustainable local businesses. Given increasing childhood obesity rates, it seems imperative to redesign our cafeteria systems and provide children with healthier lunches.
Since kids’ school habits tend to become part of home and family life, I think Cooper’s healthier & locally-grown school menus could revolutionize our youngest generation’s eating habits. Indeed, the Lunch Box program is a both a product and process innovation. It aims to provide better products – healthier lunches – and a more effective, and beneficial process – a healthier food preparation process. Greater nutritional awareness alone, however, cannot cure the increasingly poor eating habits of today’s youth; I think bottom-up community & parental activism must play an active role in actually getting Cooper’s system implemented across the country. Only time will tell as to whether Cooper’s innovative cafeteria system actually gains support and funding in school systems across the America.
Do you think Cooper’s “Lunch Box” program is truly an innovation? Why or why not?
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